À PARIS:Five months ago Eurostar launched a special offer for cheap travel between January and March. With all those dates to choose from and Brexit looming, obviously the day I picked for a day trip to Paris was our last full day in the EU, March 28th. That'll be fitting, and fun, and potentially tumultuous, I thought.
But Eurostar texted the day beforehand and said sorry, French customs officers are on strike, please change your dates. With Brexit already postponed by a fortnight, obviously I delayed my trip by a fortnight, and then Brexit didn't happen again. Not a problem. Yesterday turned out to be a glorious day in the French capital, with not a cloud in the sky, and I had a lovely day out. Here are a few observations for starters.
• I remain impressed that I can wake up at 5am, be whizzing underneath Stratford at 7am and stood outside Notre Dame listening to the clock strike eleven three hours later.
• The exchange rate is appalling these days, and euros are essentially pounds.
• I tracked down kilometrezero, the point from which all distances from Paris are measured. It's on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, which is exactly where a central point should be. Specifically it's marked by an unobtrusive octagonal brass plate within the cobbles in front of Notre Dame cathedral. The inscription says Point Zéro Des Routes De France but is now very worn. People don't generally give it a second look, unless their tour guide brings them over to make a fuss, but it felt like the kind of thing this blog really ought to mention and so I have.
• I ate a Cornish pasty on the Champs-Élysées, sorry.
• A Zone 1/2 Mobilis ticket (7.50€) costs roughly the same as London's Z1/2 daily cap (£7), but is hugely cheaper than our paper equivalent (£12.70).
• The biggest change in central Paris since my last visit is the spread of the e-scooter. They're everywhere, scattered across pavements and piazzas, abandoned where their last riders alighted. Several operators are in town, most especially Lime and Bird but also Dott, Uber and Voi. At €1 per hire plus €1.50 for ten minutes they're cheap for short journeys, and fun, and generally used in the road or along a cycle lane rather than careering across a pavement. Tourists also find them useful, and I spotted several couples and family combinations riding tandem to save cash. At rush hour the bicycle remains king, and the motor-scooter is still immensely popular, but commuting by e-scooter comes a definite third. With hire bikes also a prominent feature, in a similar variety of operators and colours, Paris has clearly taken soft mobility to its heart.
• Going through security at Gare du Nord is slower and more antiquated than going through security at St Pancras. Both are miserable experiences.
• The passenger lounge at Gare du Nord has nowhere near enough seats.
• Eurostar's wifi is very poor. I got better connectivity by turning it off.